brianmerrill

January 2012

A Letter From The Editor:

Dear Readers,

            Today, January 1st 2012 we embark upon the New Year with an enlivening fresh perspective – our third issue released from The Poetry Loft. It is a great honor to present to you the feature of this month’s issue, a deeply valuable asset of Santa Cruz and West Coast poetics, a poet mentor to many, UC Santa Cruz’ very own, Rob Wilson. Assorted in this issue are selected poems from a to-be released chapbook by New Pacific Press entitled When the Nikita Moon Rose, some Hawai’i based-poems contributing to an upcoming multi-ethnic anthology, and other classic pieces from the 1988 collection, Waking in Seoul (Univ. of Hawaii Press). The selected poems of this issue display a voice that captures the oscillation between soul and ego in a search-for-God quest – a voice that cohesively and honestly illustrates a disembodiment of time from the poetic moment, further captivating a balance between the uncanny cognitive and the humble heart.

             I will say no more and allow the bio from the most recent of Rob Wilson’s publications entitled, Beat Attitudes, share with us his greater history in the field of writing.

            Your comments are encouraged as contributions to our site! Thank you for reading.

Sincerely,

The Poetry Loft

 

photo by Theikdi

 

Rob Sean Wilson has published poems and reviews in Bamboo Ridge journal since 1979, and in various other journals from Tinfish, Taxi, Manoa, and Central Park to New Republic, Ploughshares, Partisan Review and Poetry. He is a Western Connecticut native who was educated at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was founding editor of the Berkeley poetry review. He still plays basketball, walks the city for insight, and meditates (prays) with the great void of being and creative bliss. As Jack Kerouac put it in The Dharma Bums, “Equally holy, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha!” Automat: Unsettling Anglo-Global Poetics from Asia/Pacific Lines of Flight is forthcoming from the University of Hawai’i Press. His study Be Always Converging, Be Always Converted: An American Poetics appeared with Harvard University Press and was a Choice Academic Title for 2009. A much taught cultural criticism from Asia/Pacific (co-edited with Christopher Connery) The Worlding Project: Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization appeared with New Pacific Press/North Atlantic Books in 2007. He lives and works in Santa Cruz, California – writing on the edges of all this transpacific beatitude and “busy being reborn.”

                                                    ”

                                              –Beat Attitudes

from When The Nikita Moon Rose 

 IN THAT CRAZY YEAR OF 1944 BEFORE YOU WERE BORN AGAIN

The trolley did not go past the Waterbury Hospital.
The gravy trainfrom NYC left a brown derby across town.  I won’t complain

on the other side of time.  Dreams came true in Connecticut.
Ipana for the smile of health as long as I have you.

Clang clang clang went the trolley zing zing zing zing went the collective heart.
The universe was reeling into and out of world war

under the honeysuckle moon of American ideology.
Just to stand in it was grand holding her hand in mine.

It was the GI Jive that ruled over my cradle and kept me warm.
Tears mingled in the morning milk, and wondrous white bread.

Duke Ellington wailed of betrayals in the smoky dark of beer joints.
Dad came back from the WPA program in Indiana, shaken but enlisting.

Poverty may come to me, son, it’s true but what do I care,
as long as I as long as I have you.  Good neighbor policies wooed

the countess from Russia. Top-secret work on the bomb continued in the desert.
The in look for girls was white bobby socks silver hearts and devotion.

Soldiers off to the seven seas of oblivion in the battle for Rome.
Tommy Dorsey Band had a quality that went straight to your heart.

Only twenty percent of wives ever got dressed in front of their husbands
in that crazy year of 1944.  Settling down because I love you most of all.

A Hollywood starlet, jilted, donned a white nightgown and went to sleep forever.
You always take the sweetest rose crush it with a hasty word you can’t recall.

If Stan Kenton became the big new band in California out where the west begins,
I was leaving a monk’s hamlet in war-torn Tibet to get to Western Connecticut.

Keeping still, I was seeing God in all the familiar places, in a lovely summer
day in the month of May when the night is new when the two of us become one.

Looking at the moon but seeing you, Mom. Rivers bled industrial filth.
Do nothing until you hear from me, life went on as life does

without gas, tires, without lights or Hollywood twin beds.
Although married to somebody else, Mom wrote to her future husband

smiling shyly against the Anzio barracks steps with my future godfather,
Nick Trotta, who did something wrong and was never heard from again.

That was the sentiment that prevailed on the family radio, oddities kept us
living on nutty as a fruitcake silly as a loon in June you can forward my mail.

The war went on mounting deaths and horrors in Europe and the Pacific.
GIs sent back their war brides from a zoo in Melbourne, a park in London town.

It was love love love and war war war in my hometown,
imagining a cozy flat that never was, only the Ouija board knew.

When Prince Charming got back from Anzio
and your sleeping marine uncle Dan

slept on in the Pacific forever as a dead man in navy blue water coat.
To say good-bye this way on the earth was kind of tough now.

The Andrews Sisters sang on sweetly don’t cry baby don’t cry baby
Daddy has gone to war. Don’t count the stars or you might stumble.

The church bells around the green rang for funerals, weddings, morning mass.
Redemption, lock your dreams up tight.  It could happen to you still.

A dairy cow named Elsie became the ultimate family cow,
everybody wanted their photo taken with Elsie the Cow, Elsie mugs, Elsie ties.

If I broke your heart world it is because I love you most of all.
Let’s call the whole thing off. Make the San Fernando Valley home.

Everything was dying and growing too fast as the Armada crossed
the ancient channel and time was running out for the Axis Powers.

Time waits for no one it passes you by it rolls on forever like clouds in sky.
It just goes on endlessly 1944 never to return again.

BROKEN RECORD

These rough-made poems that emanate like broken records
spill their tender orients of light from the pop charts
into the Hsinchu student dormitory at midnight
where the broken-heart factory churns out latest version

of ancient genres like “tragicomedy” or “a-love-never-meant-
to-be”:  superb how this history of literature repeats itself
in the sigh of the Taiwan sophomore or the courageous
adultery of the wonton cook.  Maybe, as they say,

the letter ”G” gets hidden inside the name of God.
The timing is obviously wrong, but the lover chooses
yet another red rose to give to his lovely
Mommy-substitute as valentine.  But she

too has been hurt by this broken record and can only mime beat refrains,
“Ouch!  There goes that history of imperial romance playing all over again.”

 

from Another Tempest In Waikiki 

FLOATING WORLD

            Since all that lives
            since we are such
            things
            since the days that are left
            “dying” is the plain word
            though I  cannot see clearly
                        before autumn tunes
            into waters before you or I shall cease

no maple leaves in all
            the world until the smoke
            from the plain rises

            although I cannot see
                        clearly the noise of
            the world not less tossed
            then my black hair

            how frail the ginger
                        blossoms float and linger
            in the ten thousand swirling oils of Honolulu harbor

 

SOLILOQUY IN WAIKIKI

All night in a steakhouse in Waikiki
she rubs her stumpy hands,
clapping them gleefully at the called‑out numbers,
talking over murky coffee to a friend nobody sees.

We can hear her muttering to herself in the red-rubber booth,
hear her conversation rise and fall
breaking out in shrill laughter at arbitrary points only she
discerns. She sits in a booth‑world of her own making,

each night in a lyric booth‑world of her own making.
We know “there is the sanity of art, the health,”
just as there is “madness of words nobody craves.”
Lady, you go on talking to a night

nobody hears, night of the lonely, erratic, and grave.
Your conversation will find no issue, except here,
over black coffee– in a booth of words– spoken
to yourself so that others may overhear and then leave

happier they are different, grand fiddlers of the news.


FEAR OVER THE ALA WAI

I sit here in the white room of fear.
I can watch the moonlight fall into the canal, the dirty canal.
I would walk out but the streets are scattered in fear,
     the streets without walls or ears.
I would walk out but I fear the moonlight shimmering,
I fear the moonlight falling into a room without me there.

I sit here in the white room of fear.
I can watch the fear falling into the room of many ears,
     the room of roaches, lizards, ferns, the one sleeping Buddha
for whom the canal is sentient brother, the dirty canal.
I would walk out to Waikiki but the lights the many neon lights
spell Ambassador spell Sheraton spell Chevron spell Ilikai,

scare me back into the white room of fear where I can sit
in the Hawaiian Monarch and watch the moonlight
fall into the dirty canal where
couples stroll to their white rooms of fear in their
lotioned flowered bodies to the white room of fear.

I would walk out but too many people walk past my fear to Hula’s,
to Pancho’s, to the Kuhio Cinema, to the darkened rooms of fear.
I would walk out through the windows of fear break the spell

     but the fear the fear  is falling everywhere in the moonlight in the diesel air
     out to coffee or a beer but the moonlight is falling into my room with its fear
and I want the fear to fall
     I want the rooms to shimmer with more than my own fear
     with the moon’s fear the summer’s fear the city’s fear of
rape or robbery, the smashed‑in head
     in the night of the average city dread when the moonlight
falls into the window when nobody calls but the
     telephone is touched in the moonlight
Of fear fear in a glass of speckled water
     the chlorine fear the nitrate fear the hot dogs fear the
coke fear the eggs fear the air conditioner fear,
     the fear falling into the room

I want to leave this fear but the room is white and moonlit,
     the hotel room is home, a home.
I can see the old moonlight fall into the dirty canal
     by the palms like wild cats in the white moonlight
waking in the lurid radiance of fear

from Waking in Seoul 


BY A LAKESIDE ROAD IN HSINCHU

Can loaf invite the soul here in smoggy Hsinchu
dreaming un-American poetics by a lakeside road
to the foreign-language school with Andy and Alex
un-becoming free-floating intellect anguised
            English ‘monarch-of-all-I-survey’

living off and on the world-wide web
of sign flow another sign-field self
starving for more attention
            like the Maori tattoos of Dennis/Denise Rodman

to step free of these imperial attributes
divest myself of myself-same-song
just drink in the huge sky over China
like the polluted sky over the Naugatuck River as if elixir
manmade toxicity linking East to West and North to South
            evaporating of the will to power over the little green pond in Hsinchu

KOREA FAREWELL

The days in the temple village were very long.
The Buddha’s nose was nowhere to be found.
I walked down to the kalbi house for some beer.
On the army base you could always buy the paper.
The taxi drivers would never cheat you.
In the end, you could not stay there too long.
Once, your were glowing from the steam bath.
The four seasons were their own kind of plot.
In time, you would come to remember.
The days ebbed on.

Once, you met her at the Royal Asiatic Society.
You lost her along the willow tree river in Seoul.
One woman was vengeance for another.
You were always swapping dreams.
On the Shilla disco floor, you wanted to leave.
She came back with white flowers.
Days full of boredom you wrote.
Days without heat you wondered why.
This is the nineteenth month without any sign.
I have no respect for my own depressiveness.

One day, I became a pragmatist in the Seoul Hilton.
She flowed out of my life, and I out of hers.
The snow all covered with snow, by the warm people.
I will always remember the kindness, the glowing eyes.
There was no more need for a wilderness.

photo by Brian Merrill

      …Excerpt from a novel

                         by Brian Merrill

            Dolores the nun was pulling our teeth out to try the best carrot cakes in the city. She convinced us to stop with her at her favorite bakery on the way back to our hotel. When we arrived, Eleanor was sitting on the wooden bench just right of the door, with her back facing the window. She was looking down at a piece of paper and a cake, but at first I thought she was just gazing at her knees. I thought that was romantic. She was so beautiful – I thought I was just going to roll into the gutter with the last rain before summer. She had me pulling my hair out of its ends. Love only falls in your lap when you don’t know how to think of it yet, my dad said at the end of our storytelling phone conversation. Sometimes he would just scoop up a coy little moral as a joke, other times it would really hit home. Dolores got all excited when she saw her, I guess they had met in the lobby of that hotel once. She was asking Dolores about what it was like to be a nun, in all her curiosity. “That was years ago though,” Dolores had said. “She’s all grown up now!”

            “I thought you would be working on a weekend night,” I heard Dolores shout as she went up and greeted her.

            “Oh no,” I heard her reply but she went so quiet after that I couldn’t hear the rest of it.

            I turned over to my mother about to say something but she got to me first, “Pretty isn’t she.”

            Before I could grin or reply a photographer came up saying he was about to take Chelsea Tribune’s April calendar photo. The photos were never from the months they said they were, he told us. Always the last week before.

            “Shh, it’s a secret,” he joked.

            “We won’t tell anyone,” my mother and I laughed.

            He asked if we’d like to be birds in front of the window, meaning we would be natural and not pose. Sure, we said, and Eleanor, as if she was preparing the whole time for his entry just looked up from her paycheck, the cake cupped in her right hand, and gazed straight into the camera as we scavenged for natural space around her and the four of us were gulped down by the chards of light bolting over our eyes. That was the first time I’d ever wanted a copy of a photo I was in. My mother saw the same photo on a postcard in the hotel’s gift shop, and sent it to me a week later after I returned to Eugene.

            At first I thought it was a bad joke. I didn’t know old ladies to joke like this. I was scared and about ready to coil up within myself. Then Dolores and my mother started whispering and I thought the boat was going to leave me in the middle of the ocean to drown. I think ten drops of sweat came out of one pour in my forehead. An evil nun, I thought! Then Dolores said cheekily with a grin,

             “Well your mother and I are going back home down the street, it’s too late for us, but you know how to get back yourself Joseph, you kids have fun.”

             My mouth dropped to my shoes. I was a big empty attic, all my words had been organized back into my pockets, and I couldn’t move my hands.

            “Do you want coffee?” I said to her black and bland, in trying to conceal nervousness I’d accidentally repressed enthusiasm.

            “Oh no, not here,” she laughed.

            “It is ten thirty,” I said.

            “Whattya scared?” She was beaming now and continued, “I know a little French place a block away.”

            When we walked there I kept thinking she was going to start skipping. I laughed in my head but I was too nervous to make any noise come out of my throat so it sounded like I was huffing air.

            “You need a cigarette,” she said.

            “I don’t smoke,” I said.

            “Oh, but you will,” she said.

            I looked surprised.

            “Not now,” she said laughing. “It’s almost eleven!”

            The French place was closed. She said she could meet me there in the morning if I wanted, that they sold salmon crepes. I told her we had a tour of Harlem awaiting us at nine am sharp the next day, and the lady taking us was French.

            “How do you know Dolores?” I said.

            “Oh is that her name?” she replied, “I just call her Sister. It felt natural.”

            And that’s when she told me she had come to her for questions about the hotel nunnery life.

            I remembered Dolores’ brother Gerald and thought I could be a tortoise floating at the bottom of the sea eating the fish he caught. Gerald the underwater eagle had a lot to say about literature and New York art. He really knew Italian food.

            “Best bread at the bottom of the sea”, he’d say to me over the shelf rocks as he cracked an oyster in his beak and handed it to me.

            I didn’t know how to respond my smile was so big and bubbles surfaced up and out of my mind.

            “What’s your name,” I said before she left the outside of the hotel entrance.

            “Hell, you’re not gonna call me are you? A lot of these people I meet at the bakery end up calling me and damn, I’m Eleanor. Doesn’t anybody ever still write letters?”

            She said the word damn so cogently it struck me in the eye, like a punch. My left eye. But more so even, she said her own name as if there weren’t any syllables and the word bounced off four walls equally, so that it could never leave the room of my head. The clarity of her voice was ethereal. I couldn’t ever quite reform the pitch identically in my head after that evening. But her voice stunned me like the flame of a candle slapped out with two palms, the darkness halting all echo. Wax that would stick to my hands even after washing with soap. She had little white tennis shoes, with buckles on top instead of laces, so I could see the tops of her feet. For some reason, I realized then that I liked that. Never before had I thought of the tops of feet as cute. Never before had I allowed myself to think the word cute.

            “Goodnight,” I said.

            “See you tomorrow,” she replied already walking the other way down the street, never looking back. As she passed the last angle of light from the hotel entryway, I thought I could see a smile coming up from her jaw to her right ear, her head facing the cracks of the street below her.

            I only went to sleep because I knew if I didn’t I’d look half dead. Next thing I knew we were across a table from each other, myself in the chair, and her in the booth. It was like we hadn’t even met the night before, or it was like I’d been reading her poetry for the last month. She looked at me like I had all the anatomical faculties my pediatrician always told me I did when I was a kid, but never really believed. I thought for a second I could recognize the sound of my own voice. I breathed her as the custard mist that deserted itself between air and water – amidst waves. I’m kidding, reader. I’m a poet not a nutritionist. If someone writes you a love letter with prose like that, I’d be afraid they were going to eat me. “I vant to suck your blooooood,” Dracula screams!

            “Where are you headed in the years approaching?” She opened up her shoulders when she said it, as if the question mark was a tattoo that would hold onto you until the art wrinkled on your skin and aged like a prune in a jacuzzi. She had spoons for eyes, the silver faced me in a pond reflection, throwing bread afloat, I pecked it up, and my solitude sang within her. I thought of making love to her, and I knew exactly how I would.

            “How does anyone make love?” she said later when she paid a quarter for the paper.

            “Hey you stole that line,” I said.

            “Oh you wrote it did you?” She jeered.

            My body started humming with hers. Tuning forks. Then I started humming and she whistled a taxi. We’d only walked two blocks together. One at night and one in morning.

            “I’ll see you,” I said uncertain.

            “Tomorrow,” she said. “Don’t you leave town?”

            “Yes,” I said.

            “I’ll see you tonight then.”

            I trusted her.

            She came to the Leo house at eight and took me to an open stage in Greenwich Village. We promised to never repeat the name. After all, my mother was Catholic. It was the best, most rawly influential show I’d ever witnessed. I wrote poems for the next three years on that same inspiration I felt then. She showed me her apartment in the village. She didn’t introduce me to any of her friends.

            “I didn’t know it was possible to make love,” I said.

            “Me neither,” she sighed, laying her head in the cocoon of my chest. Her hair fell over me, covering all my senses with her warmth. My bottom lip nearly had a welt. I thought my smile would fall off my face. We didn’t sleep long enough to dream. My mother never called. My eyes in the morning were as bloodshot as my heart. I thought the sun rose from my feet to my nose.

            “You’re a star,” she said when I walked out of the hotel and called a taxi.

            “How do you know you’ve only –“

            “Trust me,” she laughed.

            That was the first time I thought a human being could carry their own light.

            She believed in me. It made me light.

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